It’s a small-town phenomenon: Parents raising kids on the same block where they grew up with grandma, aunts, siblings and cousins all right around the corner. And it has been that way in small towns just about as long as anyone can recall.
But it’s also common here, with some families three or four generations deep, making our neighborhood feel more like a village and less like a big city.
Here’s a look at what’s bringing neighbors back home generation after generation, and a candid discussion about what it’s like having your in-laws living across the street.
When Greg, Vic, Ross and Billy — the sons of Bill “Bulldog” Cunningham and his wife, Mina — aren’t poking fun at each other, they’re likely reminiscing about how hard it was growing up as a Cunningham in our neighborhood.
After all, they say, everyone in Lakewood seemed to know them.
And while Bulldog and Mina enjoyed that their four sons couldn’t go far without them knowing about it, it proved problematic for the boys.
“I tried to hide around Lakewood as best as I could, but it’s hard to hide when your name is Cunningham,” Billy says. All but one of the multi-generational gang still calls Lakewood home.
Greg lives here, Bulldog speculates, because “he lives at Lakewood Country Club.”
Vic’s “global view” — or lack thereof — has kept him within a one-block radius his entire life, jokes Ross. And Ross says he’s a fan of the trees in the area, even if it does sound like a “hokey” reason to hang around.
Billy, the others joke, wanted to establish a 2,000-mile barrier and get away.
“It’s 1,207 miles,” corrects Billy from Los Angeles, where he runs a marketing and entertainment company.
All joking aside, the Cunningham family members — all graduates of Woodrow Wilson High School — say they like the area simply because it’s home and their family has been here for five generations.
Bulldog, an insurance agent and former City Plan Commissioner, returned to the area after the Korean War because, as he says, he knew no different.
“I knew this is where I had a place to sleep, and I knew people, and I was comfortable. I got back and went into the insurance business the next day.”
The Cunningham boys who remained in the ‘hood, Ross and Vic, now with children of their own, hope their offspring will choose to continue the living-in-Lakewood tradition.
Vic, an attorney and former Dallas judge, says he believes being close to family is more important than ever, especially since nowadays “people want to supplant [family time] with a two-line text message.”
The Cunninghams are still well-known, but now Bulldog’s kids find the notoriety more advantageous.
“If my kids go anywhere, or do anything,” Vic says, “we know about it before they get home.”
Tom Crabb Jr. and Sr. share more than a name. They share a mutual love for traveling and baseball, too. Tom Jr. estimates he has been to about 40 different ballparks; his father’s living room Texas Rangers’ shrine speaks to his love of the game.
Of course, another thing the two share is their love for the neighborhood.
“[Here] we have our own schools and churches and country club and grocery store, and everywhere you go, you see someone you know, like in a small town,” says Tom Jr.
After a quick stint at the Village Apartments, “everybody’s first residence,” says Tom Jr., his new family moved to a house on Vanderbilt and then eventually to their current residence on Velasco.
“We set up shop in Lakewood Elementary school district to put our girls through Lakewood [Elementary] School — same school I went to.”
He says living in this area made sense because he works around the corner at Woodrow Wilson High School, where both he and his father graduated.
“I can’t understand people who drive an hour to work. I would never live in the suburbs for that reason. I would live in sub-standard housing [if it meant] not having to drive two hours a day.”
Tom Sr. considers himself lucky that his family lives close together.
“It’s an advantage for me as a grandparent. I don’t have to plan a trip to Oklahoma or St. Louis or something like that.”
Of course, living in the same neighborhood gives the Crabbs more opportunities to attend baseball games and such, and just watch after each other in general, says Tom Jr.
“It’s just real convenient. I can check on him easily, come by and see if he’s OK, bring him goodies every now and then, and I get goodies, too. He makes brownies, and he’s always got ice cream.”
Car breaks down? Call the parents. Going to a movie, and need a babysitter? Call the parents. Need someone to watch the house? Call the parents.
Cheri Flynn didn’t think about what she would do in these situations as she and her husband Bill Flynn searched for a house after graduating from college, but when they arose, it was convenient having Cheri’s parents living just a minute away.
Cheri, a teacher at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, cites several reasons for her return to the area.
“I went to a good school, I had good teachers, I made good friends, I stayed in Dallas for college, I was just real linked-in to the community. I wanted to come back.”
Cheri’s mother, Claire Cunningham, believes the process that leads to kids moving back to the area where they grew up begins before they ever even finish grade school.
“I would like to think if they’ve been brought up in a fairly congenial family that does things together, and they see this pattern over and over, they’d like to keep linking to it.”
Claire says well-established generations in the neighborhood make assimilating easier for new families.
“It’s like starting a new job, where you start and there are a lot of people there to mentor you, versus starting at a brand new upstart company where nobody really knows what they’re doing. It’s unique to certain areas. You’re not going to go to Frisco and find that.”
As the years have passed, the ever-growing family tree makes maintaining family traditions tough.
Twice a year, on the Fourth of July and Christmas, Cheri’s parents hold parties that function more like an “intergenerational open house.”
Attendees might include Cheri and Bill’s three children — Darbe, Shawn and Kelsey — and Cheri’s sisters, who live in the nearby Park Cities area, along with their respective children, to name a few.
“We have exactly 48 family members within about a mile of one another,” Cheri says.
Rather than celebrating Christmas in one spot, Claire and her husband, Dale make the rounds to each of their daughters’ houses in turn. And the once-weekly family dinner is no longer held every week.
“It’s hard to sit down and talk to everybody when there are 20 people there. The downside is when we do go out to dinner, it costs a lot of money,” Cheri says.
“But if you say Pietro’s in front of everybody, chances are we’ll all end up there.”
Bradley Sue Howell’s family has faced adversity, but they say it has been easier to deal with thanks to the backbone of family close to home. The best example was when a stroke recently sent Bradley Sue’s husband, Richard, to the hospital.
“When a relative is in the hospital, we can all take shifts,” says her daughter, Jane Walker. “It’s not like somebody’s in Chicago, somebody’s in California, when can they come?”
One of the big reasons Jane returned to the area in which she grew up was because she sought this family support.
“I needed someone to help me with the kids — I had two very young children.”
This family’s migration to East Dallas started with Bradley Sue’s parents.
“My mother and her sisters and brothers all came [here] from Colin County. One of my uncles had a business, so all those people came into the business [the former American Clutch Products on Haskell],” Bradley Sue says. “So it’s more than just my generation, but my parents’ generation, too.”
Living in the neighborhood today are Bradley Sue, Richard and Jane (along with Jane’s two college-age children), Jane’s brother, Mark, who lives on Tremont, and their other sister, Celeste.
Bradley Sue’s sister, Catherine Wilson, lives in the area, and so does her daughter, Carrie Riney, and Carrie’s husband, Carey. The Rineys’ son, Morgan, is a seventh grader at J.L. Long, and the rest of the aforementioned graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School at some point.
Jane says having lived so close to her family for so long, she almost takes for granted the small perks that come with it.
“After church, my kids would always be asking, ‘Where are we going to lunch?’ and other people would be like, ‘Wow y’all go to church together, and you get to go eat lunch together.’ To us, that’s just something we’ve done our whole lives.”
For years, Bradley Sue worked at Woodrow and had the opportunity to watch her grandchildren come through the school. This allowed her to become a “go between”, she says, because when there was something major going on at the school, she knew about it as soon as the kids did.
Asked if they ever get tired of each other, the mother-daughter pair is silent for a few seconds before Jane chuckles and says, “No, we’re far enough apart … if you don’t want to see someone, you stay home.”
Each morning, Gerry and Norma Worrall go on a walk that takes them by son Gerry Jr.’s house, where they stop and move Junior’s newspaper from the grass to his front step.
Gerry Jr. has become so accustomed to finding his newspaper on his doorstep that when he wakes up and it isn’t there, he says, “I know that we gotta call and say ‘What’s going on? Why isn’t my newspaper on the doorstep?’”
It’s the little things like this that Norma sites as a reason she loves having the family live so close by.
Living on Lakewood Boulevard, the Lakewood Fourth of July Parade has become an annual Worrall family tradition. Norma and Gerry Sr. remember dressing up their kids in some of the earliest parades, and Gerry Sr.’s Father’s Day card from his daughter included pictures of the kids dressed up for the parade.
Although traditions like these have been longstanding new ones are always being created.
A few years ago, Gerry Jr. and his siblings gave their father golf clubs for his birthday. Father and son took lessons together and began playing. Soon after, Gerry and a group of high school friends began meeting on Wednesday nights at Tenison to play, and Gerry Sr. joined the fun.
For Gerry Jr., having a close-knit family group in the area made the decision to move back to the area after college easy; he says he never had a burning desire to go elsewhere. He believes, however, that the next generation might see things a bit differently.
“I think in more recent generations, for my kids, the world is shrinking; there’s so much more exposure to international affairs and activities, and businesses are integrated across the world,” he says.
“The thought process to going to school elsewhere and going internationally and working internationally is a much more common thing.”
When this block has a party, it’s a family affair.
The Lochwood neighborhood is home to about half a dozen descendants of Joe and Elaine Nevitt, who live on Carissa. The couple has 10 children. Their oldest, Renee Davis, a Bishop Lynch graduate, lives on Scottsmeadow with her husband, Gib, and their two sons Nicholas and Scott, also Bishop Lynch High School grads.
Also on Scottsmeadow — in separate abodes — are Renee’s brothers David Nevitt, a Northeast Division Dallas Police officer who has one daughter attending Texas A&M, and Tom, accompanied by his wife, Kim, plus children Anna and Thomas.
And they are looking to bring more family members into the Lochwood fold. “We are looking for a house here for my brother and sister-in-law, too,” says David.
The whole family makes it to big block parties hosted by David — the neighborhood usually joins them, though many of the attendees happen to be related.
“There were 70 people at his party this past year,” Elaine says, “even though it was raining. A lot of people from the neighborhood came out and a lot of our family was there, too.”
David has been hosting the block party-turned family reunion, rain or shine, seven years running.
The patriarchs’ fondness for the neighborhood likely rubbed off on their offspring. “We love the Lochwood neighborhood, love our neighbors, and we feel safe here,” Elaine says. “I think the children found out how great it is just by watching us.
“It’s nice having the whole family around,” she says. “I do feel a little sorry for Tom who we usually call when I need something fixed.”
All of the Nevitts’ children, save one out-of-state son, live in Dallas, and a few of them work for the family business, Nevitt Fragrances, which produces and sells colognes, potpourris, candles and oils.
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